“‘Cheshire Cat,’ asked Alice. ‘Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?’ ‘That depends a good deal on where you want to go,’ said the Cat. ‘I don’t much care where,’ said Alice. ‘Then it doesn’t matter where you go,’ said the Cat.” –Lewis Carrol
Sometimes we feel completely lost and can’t find our way forward.
Or we feel stuck at a job that no longer feeds our soul.
Or maybe we are caught making a hard decision between two very compelling opportunities.
A way through those murky moments and tough decisions is to step back and use your values to guide you forward.
Values, which are different from morals or principles, are qualities or criteria which you deem worthy such as creativity, health, wealth, wisdom or friendship. Using values to guide tough decisions or actions can keep you on your path to true North.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you are really good at writing and one of your top 5 values is “service” – to help others. Employers that might be best suited for you will mostly likely be in the nonprofit or high service industries.
But what if you have the same skills but your top value is “wealth” – to have plenty of money? You will find greater satisfaction working with employers in the financial marketplace or high technology where you have the opportunity to accumulate wealth more rapidly.
However, what if you are like me, and you have two or three values that compete neck and neck?
In my case creative arts and service have always been close ties. The way I managed these values in my career was to choose one for a period of time. So I began my career in the arts working in luxury hotel interior design.
Then 5 years later, these I flip flopped these and my service value became the driver of my career decisions at which point I became a career counselor. My creative arts took the back seat and was expressed through my hobbies.
There may be lifestyle values that also drive your decisions. For instance, when my son was young, I valued flexibility above all else.
As you move through various stages of your life, it is important to take some time to revisit your values to be sure your life reflects your current top five values – those things you believe are important.
How do you uncover your values?
1. Review past decisions and actions from your life.
Think of a peak experience, a time when you have enjoyed yourself and you were fully engaged in the moment. Describe what you were doing?
- What values are represented in the actions you took?
- Compile a list of 3 – 5 values represented in this story.
2. Countries, cultures and families all influence our values.
Consider values you have adopted from your upbringing and social-economic environment. The world values survey identifies two different dimensions of values which can be traced to geographic regions of the world:
a. Traditional values versus Secular-rational values
b. Survival values versus Self-expression values
Traditional values emphasize the importance of religion, parent-child ties, deference to authority and traditional family values. People who embrace these values also reject divorce, abortion, euthanasia and suicide. These societies have high levels of national pride and a nationalistic outlook.
Secular-rational values have the opposite preferences to the traditional values. These societies place less emphasis on religion, traditional family values and authority. Divorce, abortion, euthanasia and suicide are seen as relatively acceptable. (Suicide is not necessarily more common.)
Survival values place emphasis on economic and physical security. It is linked with a relatively ethnocentric outlook and low levels of trust and tolerance.
Self-expression values give high priority to environmental protection, growing tolerance of foreigners, gays and lesbians and gender equality, and rising demands for participation in decision-making in economic and political life.
- What values do you embrace from your upbringing and heritage?
- Why are these values important to you?
- Which ones do you challenge now?
3. Values Sort Cards
The Personal Values Card Sort (2001), developed by W.R. Miller, J. C’de Baca, D.B. Matthews, and P.L. Wilbourne, of the University of New Mexico provides a number of values you can sort into piles and attribute priority.
Once you have selected your most important cards, ask yourself:
- Why are these values important to you?
- Describe decisions or activities in your life which currently reflect these values.
4. Apply your top 6 values as a filter for decision making and taking action.
It is important to identify 5 or 6 top values. This is can be quite challenging since they are all worthy.
Once you have your top values, the next time you are faced with a tough decision or considering various alternatives, apply values-focused thinking.
This will guide you to make a better decision based on what you deem worthy. By making decisions based on your values you will experience greater satisfaction and live a more fulfilling and authentic life.